That the Israelites, practically, did not engage in navigation is due to the fact that they never held the sea-coast for any length of time. According to Judges v. 17, Josh. xix. 26, 28, Gen. xlix. 13, and Deut. xxxiii. 19, the territories of the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali did indeed touch the sea temporarily, but the time was too short to bring about any fruitful results. Besides, the seacoast of Palestine south of Mount Carmel is remarkably poor in natural harbors. Neither was river navigation in Palestine possible; the Jordan was not suited to it on account of its quick descent and many rapids. Only once is a ferry mentioned in connection with that river, and that was provided for David in order that he might avoid the necessity of fording the Jordan (II Sam. xix. 18). It is a remarkable fact that the Old Testament nowhere mentions ships on Lake Gennesaret. This can not be because navigation was not known there, or was unimportant; it is probably due to the fact that Galilee as a whole played too insignificant a part in Hebrew history to have given much occasion to speak of the conditions existing there. At the time of Jesus the lake must have been alive with fishing-boats.
The only Hebrew seafaring expeditions of which anything is known did not proceed from any Mediterranean harbor on the coast of Palestine, but went out from Ezion-geber and Elath on the Red Sea, and they took place possibly only because the Israelites were allied with the Phenicians, who were a maritime people at that time. Even the rafts of cedar and cypress which were necessary for Solomon's building enterprises were brought from the north along the coast, not by Israelites but by Phenicians, the Israelites transporting them overland (I Kings v. 9). Nor did the Jews engage in navigation in later times, even when they possessed harbors. The Maccabean Simon conquered the seaport town of Joppa (I Macc. xiv. 5), and Herod's extensive building operations in the harbor of Cæsarea are mentioned, but nothing is heard of any seafaring enterprise at that time on the part of Jews. Mention occurs of Jewish piracy in the time of Pompey (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 3, § 2) and also during the time of the Judæo-Roman war, when the fugitives, who consisted in part of Jews, and who had gathered at Joppa, starting from that point for a short time, made the coasts of Phenicia, Syria, and Egypt unsafe (comp. Josephus, "B. J." iii. 9, § 2). The ships of Tarshish, mentioned in the Bible, concerning whose construction and luxurious equipment Ezek. xxvii. gives an account, were Phenician. See also
The Talmud gives evidence of the participation of Jews in navigation in the long list of foreign articles they are mentioned as importing into Palestine and Babylonia, many of which must have come by ships. Many legal points arose in which the purchase of ships is mentioned (B. B. v. 1). The purchase of a ship includes that of its masts, rudder, and ropes (ib.). Yet some of the stories told by Rabba bar bar Ḥana show a certain wonder at and unfamiliarity with the sea which precludes any wide acquaintance with seamanship. There seems even to have been current a kind ofmarine insurance. According to Josephus ("Contra Ap." ii., § 5), the Jews of Alexandria had the most to do with the sea-trade of the Red Sea.
After the spread of Jewish commerce in Moslem and Christian lands following upon the rise of Islam (see Commerce) there is greater evidence of Jewish participation in sea-trade. The Radanites carried on traffic in this way throughout the Mediterranean. Charles the Great once mistook a Norman vessel for a Jewish one, and there seems to have been frequent communication between Jews of Cologne and England by sea ("Recessen der Hansetage, 1256-1430," iii. 295). Jews contributed largely toward the progress of chartography in the Middle Ages (see Chartography), and the discovery of America was largely due to their charts and mathematical instruments. Several Jews accompanied Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Albuquerque. When James Lancaster went on the first voyage of the East India Company a Jew who knew several languages accompanied him and was of considerable assistance in dealing with the Sultan of Sumatra. In 1521 Jewish pirates attempted to prevent the junction of the Spanish fleet with that of the Venetians. In Hamburg and Amsterdam several Jewish seamen followed their calling. Captain Ribeiro died in the latter place in 1623; and the family Ferro in Hamburg have an anchor for their crest. In both Glückstadt and Emden Jews were known as sailors in the seventeenth century. In the former Paulo Melão built a ship for himself in 1628, much against the will of the local ship-builders. Jews of Altona carried on trade with Greenland in the eighteenth century, and in the fight off the Dogger Bank in the North Sea Captain Almeida distinguished himself on the Dutch side (1785). At the beginning of the nineteenth century the firm of Meyer & Simon had many vessels which carried corn to England, and had branches in Hamburg and New York. One of their ships was named the "Swift Jew." Philip Ree of Hamburg had at one time no less than five ships plying between Amsterdam and Antwerp. Other firms connected with the shipping trade were those of Lyon of Emden and Hollander of Sens.
In more modern times many Jewish firms have been connected with shipping in the colonial trade, while Albert Ballin is the chief promoter of the Hamburg-American transatlantic line, which has almost revolutionized the Atlantic passenger traffic.
- Grunwald, Der Juden, als Seefahrer, Hamburg, 1903;
- idem, in Ost und West, iv. 479-486.